May 27, 2015

PBC on NBC TV — Behind the Scenes in Boston for The Sweet Science

Grand Slam on the Grandstand
Covering the PBC on NBC show in Boston last week was hard work but it was very rewarding. I'd like to tell you some more about what that was like for me to be there and to do that. For the first time since creating the KO Digest in 2010, I (Jeffrey Freeman) was credentialed under a different media outlet (The Sweet Science) and I was working for somebody else (Michael Woods). As my friends and loyal readers in the boxing community know, I set the bar very high for all things boxing media related but this live coverage assignment needed to be taken to the next level. That much I was very stressfully aware of.

Unaware of exactly how I'd go about achieving this end, I took the advice of my editor to "be the artist" and trust my instincts. It all worked out splendidly. 

That creative effort began for me at Fenway Park on Thursday for the final press conference before the Saturday afternoon card on nearby Comm Ave May 23.

Dirrell, the Greatest, Micky Ward, and DeGale
Like a Red Sox player on the base paths, I ran around the ball park talking to everybody, making impressions, and obtaining quotes and pictures. I took full advantage of the opportunities for one-on-one interactions with main event participants James DeGale and Andre Dirrell. It was during these exchanges that I worked side-by-side with USA Today's Mike Coppinger and others.

I also enjoyed a great conversation with "Magic Man" Paulie Malignaggi and even got a close-up look at that fatefully sliced left eyelid of his. As a cut, I've seen much worse but I could now see with my own eyes why his Brooklyn Brawl at the Barclays Center against Danny O'Connor had to be scrapped.

I met international media members from across the pond and close to home. On a media sign-in sheet that was left out by the entrance of Gate E on Lansdowne Street, I somehow managed to beat the UK's "Sky Sports" but not Cary Shuman from the Independent Newspaper Group. Imagine that. Having covered my fair share of boxing press conferences for KO Digest, I can say without question that this one at Fenway Park for The Sweet Science was the best and most fun. The free food was pretty good too by the way in the form of a full buffet of Fenway Franks with all the fixings.

On a belly full of Beantown bites, I covered the final presser like it was my job, because frankly, it was. 

Baytown in Beantown
The weigh-in on Friday at Faneuil Hall was more of the same. For any boxing reporter or photographer worth his or her salt, this was a target rich environment. After taking some more great photographs, I spent my time there conducting on the spot interviews with some of the undercard fighters such as Spike O'Sullivan, Ryan Kielczweski, Danny O'Connor, Chris Gilbert, Logan McGuiness, and Baytown, Texan Craig "El Gato Negro" Baker. Sporting a "Flip The Bird" Larry Bird T-shirt, Baker gets my vote for "most fun fighter to talk to" a day before a big boxing match. Baker, who was stopped in three rounds by Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriguez, sat right next to me in front of the weigh-in stage while he waited for his time to go up there and hit the scale. After I took a shot of him in his cool shirt, Baker posted it on social media and we watched as the likes and comments poured in.

As a native Texan, I felt a responsibility to make Baker feel welcomed in my city.

When I arrived at the venue on Saturday around noon, I parked in a special media lot that was only $5 for the day. As I gathered my things and got ready to make the short walk over to the Agganis Arena, an arriving vehicle honked its horn. It was good friend and fight photographer Pattee Mak. We chatted it up on the short walk to pick up our press passes. As we made our way from the credentialing desk to the ring, we passed through the "backstage" area of the entire PBC production team. There was a spot to stop and take photos with the PBC and NBC logos as a staged backdrop. From there, it was into the arena which was still being set up. Before taking my seat in pressrow, I took a few minutes to converse with fellow early-bird Lee Groves. The Ring Magazine's Travelin' Man was there to count punches for COMPUBOX and he gave me an impromptu verbal preview of the article he was working on for RingTV about his time spent working in Boston.

I'm eager to get down to work - Photo by Pattee Mak
Before you knew it, the Agganis Arena was filling up and the fights were officially underway at 1:38 PM. One undercard bout quickly turned into another and then another. There were four first-round knockouts and two that went the distance. Before you knew it, it was 4:30 PM and the show was going live on NBC television. With tunnel vision, I blocked out all the distractions and wrote about DeGale vs. Dirrell while simultaneously scoring it round by round. In the end, I had it 116-110 for DeGale. It was only afterwards that I came to realize some people on social media had it a draw or a Dirrell win.

I'm still not sure what fight they were looking at. 

When there were no more boxing matches left to cover and no more quality content available to gather, I packed up my media bag and said my goodbyes to friends and colleagues. Fellow boxing writer Steve Tobey tried to convince me that he was retiring from fight writing after many years of service but I didn't want to believe him. With good friend and boxing publicist Bob Trieger by my side, we made our way from the ringside press section towards the area where I first came in. What better place to depart the premises I thought. It was a good thing I did that.

As we walked towards the service exit, I suddenly saw James DeGale and his British posse as they emerged from the dressing room to leave the venue. I knew I had to approach DeGale and talk to him about the fight, that my job as a journalist was not complete. As I did, somebody from his team made a halfhearted attempt to stop me but DeGale immediately recognized me from our fight week interactions and "Chunky" gave a subtle nod that it was OK I talk to him. And so that's just exactly what happened.

Boxer & belt, KO behind the scenes in Boston
After covering a televised world championship bout in Boston, I walked and talked with the new super middleweight champion of the world, interviewing him for my Sweet Science article, all the while curious to see that IBF championship title belt that seemed to be banned from the PBC promotion and from the NBC telecast.

"Where is your new title belt?" I asked DeGale.

It was in a small locked case that his Dad was carrying for him. With British boxing promoter Eddie Hearn looking on, DeGale then stopped and removed the beautiful red belt before posing with it for me just outside the building nearby an ambulance parked on standby.

An hour or so later, I was home filing my ringside report for TSS. 

Thanks for reading. See you at the fights my friends!

Images & Words by Jeffrey Freeman